Fred Penner brings The Cat Came Back to the stage at Toronto’s Young People’s Theatre
When we slip into our seats four minutes after curtain at the Young People’s Theatre due to an unforeseen travel glitch, the last chords of Fred Penner’s The Cat Came Back were fading away. My small companion said “We missed it…” somewhat forlornly, as he’d been eagerly anticipating the title song. “They’ll play it again,” I said, confidently. He nodded and settled in, excited to have his first, live Fred Penner experience.
Unfortunately, the settling in was somewhat short lived.
This piece, though clearly full of talent and well-constructed, had a couple of major shortcomings. One: I’m concerned that the show was simply too “small” a show for a 450-seat theatre. The action was intimate, the voices were conversational, and those of us sitting toward the back felt like we were watching the show from a million miles away. Parts of the dialogue got lost in the murmuring of the nearby children, squeaking of seats, rustling of coats, etc. In a 150-seat space, this might really have been a much more accessible, much more interesting show.
Second: There were some uncomfortable moments in which things were done to the eponymous Cat that my small companion felt very nervous about. The cat is thrown out, locked out, locked in a box, and tied in a bag and thrown into the river by Mr Johnson, his person. By that last, he was starting to get upset that the grownups were being so mean to the cat. Child development research shows that when you spend three-quarters of a show modeling the bad behaviour only to resolve things at the end, kids are much more likely to remember the bad behaviours. The same seemed to be true here. I am grateful that we don’t have a cat, but he’s talked several times now about the man who was mean to the cat.
Eventually there was some heartfelt redeeming conversation that turned Mr. Johnson around about his cat, though I couldn’t hear much of it. There were complaints from the kids around me that whatever was happening didn’t make much sense to them – why did this guy want his cat back now?
Fred Penner, Jay Brazeau, Kim Selody and the puppeteering team were good in the show, certainly. The music was very nice, and my small companion loved the Cat Came Back singalong at the end like nothing else. He sang with gusto at the end, and spent quite a moment petting the puppet cat in the lobby after the show, an experience he declared to be “the best part. I love that puppet.”
Overall, I think he would have been a great deal happier with a closer encounter of The Cat, and less mad of the how or whether it Came Back.
Kid Plus One notes:
Darkness: House is dark, but stage lights are bright enough to cast a good glow, especially down front.
Loud/sudden noises: A few bangs of box-lids, nothing much.
Themes: Patience, kindness, loss, and sweaters.
Seating: Classic soft-seat theatre, general admission.
Overall family-friendliness: We were there with a number of school classes, and there was a lot of talking during the show. My son, who has been well-trained not to talk during performances, quickly got the idea that no one would notice if he did and felt free to “helpfully” point things out to the performers. Even a very small chatterbox should be fine here.
Special considerations: Probably not a good choice for kids who are sensitive to pretend-violence.